A daring, inquisitive girl tries to save her school from disaster in this debut middle-grade novel.
To say that sixth-grade student Evie is curious is an understatement. A foster child, she mostly keeps to herself, becoming engrossed in novels and embarking in her head on the escapades they describe. She even has a secret space on the second floor of Ferngarden School, and it’s in this hideaway that she snoops and eavesdrops on her teachers. Evie is tortured by neighborhood bully Tar Greeley, and when he calls her an alien and implies that she comes from outer space, she sets out on a journey to figure out who her birth parents are. When she tries to find her birth certificate, she is rebuffed because she is too young to access the records, and she returns to everyday life, looking forward to the beginning of the school year. But just before the first day of school, the teachers find a strange infestation of copperhead snakes and Ferngarden is deemed unfit to open. Soon, the town finds out that if Ferngarden doesn’t open on schedule, it is immediately returned to the estate of the original owner, whose sole heir is Tar’s father. Evie and her friend Danny are sure that the Greeleys have something to do with the snakes, but can they prove it? Evie returns to eavesdropping, and the fate of the school (and her own destiny) falls into her hands. Evie’s emotional and intellectual maturity is about on par with that of an actual middle schooler (which is a good thing). Wickham’s characterization of Evie makes her a worthy role model and, hopefully, readers around the same age will see her that way. While the story is fun and engaging (if a bit obvious), the pacing is off, as the whole tale wraps up in the final 15 or so pages. A more gradual road to the book’s climax would have served it better—though it’s entertaining, one gets the sense of “Oh, that’s all?” Wickham would do well to create a series of Evie adventures—with her infinite curiosity, she’s a remarkable heroine.
An appealing and absorbing tale of a young sleuth.